Whale Sharks in Tanzania

A small population of whale sharks occurs off the west coast of Mafia Island, some 10-15km offshore from the central Tanzanian coast. The sharks are most commonly observed when feeding at the surface between the months of October and April. The population dynamics, seasonal movements and interactions of these whale sharks with others in the region are not well understood. The sharks are vulnerable to local fishing and tourism activities, both of which are likely to increase over time.

Educating Local Fishers

Sea Sense is working closely with local fishers in Mafia who interact with whale sharks during their daily fishing activities. Some fishers are known to use whale sharks to help locate schools of fish. This practice has led to a number of whale sharks becoming entangled in nets and being hit by boat propellers. Sea Sense has organised a number of education workshops for fishers to raise awareness of whale shark conservation and promote fishing practices that do not cause harm or distress to whale sharks.  

Whale Shark Tourism

A whale shark tourism industry is growing steadily in Mafia Island.  The whale sharks are commonly seen between October and April which coincides with the peak tourist season in Tanzania. Scientists and conservationists have been raising concerns for some time about the potential impact of tourism on whale shark populations. 

Sea Sense has recently held a workshop, funded by WWF Tanzania, for staff employed in the whale shark tourism industry in Mafia Island.  17 tour guides and boat operators attended the workshop which focused on improving participants' knowledge and understanding of whale shark biology, ecology and conservation.  Best practice guidelines for whale shark viewing were introduced and explained to ensure the participants understood the components of a safe and sustainable whale shark experience.  A  number of case studies from around the world were also presented to highlight best practices for whale shark tourism.  Through group discussions, the participants agreed on a Code of Conduct for whale shark tourism in Mafia Island.  The next step is to identify strategies to monitor compliance with the code.

Whale shark education in schools

Sea Sense has implemented several whale shark education programmes using song, art and drama to convey simple messages about the importance of whale sharks in Mafia Island.  Students have also been taken to see the whale sharks themselves during World Environment Day celebrations.

Did you know?

Every whale shark has an individual pattern of spots, a bit like a human fingerprint!

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